Water heaters are the energy guzzlers of the home, consuming a full 17 percent of the household’s energy intake. Luckily, one weekend of work can increase an existing water heater’s energy efficiency and the project will not break the bank. The skill level required is also fairly low, so even for someone new to the DIY scene the task is attainable. Measure water heater efficiency in three areas: maintenance, insulation, and amount of use.

What to Know Before You Shop

Before shopping for supplies, determine if the current water heater is gas or electric, which will impact what and how to make any improvements. Inspect the unit for any frayed wiring, rust or other signs of disrepair. Next, check the insulation rating of the heater. Do not insulate a tank rated R-25 or better as this will cause the unit to become too hot and can cause damage to component parts. Double insulation is also a fire hazard.

Maintenance

Complete maintenance before attempting any other steps in this project. Since a water heater is essentially a water tank, regular care only requires draining and flushing the tank. The Department of Energy recommends draining approximately one quart of water every three months rather than fully flushing the system once a year. Making it part of a seasonal routine will keep this easy to remember.

Connect a garden hose to the outlet spigot at the bottom of the tank, directing the water to an available drain. Open the tank’s pressure release valve to turn on the spigot. When finished draining, turn the valve back to the closed position before removing the hose. Draining the tank from the bottom helps prevent sediment from building up at the base of the tank. As sediment builds the tank will require more and more energy to heat.

Insulation

If the tank does not have an R-25 rating or feels hot to the touch, an insulation blanket will help reduce its energy consumption about 4-9%. Purchase an insulation blanket kit from any home store and install following the accompanying directions.

Cut-outs are essential for any switches, panels, control knobs and the pressure outlet valve. Use household scissors to trim the blanket as needed. For a gas heater, be sure to keep the blanket away from the flue at the top of the tank and the burner at the bottom of the tank.

Next, insulate any pipes going to and from the tank itself. Pipe insulation tubing made from preformed foam is available for a few dollars. There is a slit in one side of the foam, allowing it to slip over the pipe easily. Then, use a ring of duct tape to seal the seam every few feet.

Employ the pipe insulation tubing to protect any exposed hot water pipes including those in crawl spaces. It is also beneficial to insulate the cold water pipes leading into the tank. Warmer water coming into the tank will use less energy to bring the water to temperature.

Amount of Use

The less you make use of the water heater, the less energy it will consume. Low flow faucet adapters and shower heads are available for as little as $10 and chances are the family will barely notice the difference. But making these changes will save a family of four about 14,000 gallons of water a year. Less water used equals less water heated.

Next, if the water heater is electrical, consider installing a timer to prevent the water heater from running 24 hours a day. Set the timer to turn the heater on about an hour before morning shower time and off again when the house is empty or everyone is likely to be sleeping. If it is a gas heater, a timer will not work with the pilot light system and may create an unnecessary hazard.

Need further assistance from Hunke, please contact us and we can help make your home more efficient.